Monday, January 22, 2007

"Scratch any cynic, and underneath you'll find a disappointed idealist."

Yesterday in the NYT Magazine, they had an interesting article about how your positive or negative outlook invariably affects you. Which essentially means that your attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which I mostly agree with, but not always.

The most interesting part was when they talked about people's global attitudes and feelings about the future, and how they're pretty much always bleak, while the same people tend to overestimate the positivity in their own lives.

My favorite part, though, was the part about clinically depressed people, and how most people who suffer from serious depression do so not because of a lack of hope or positivity, but generally, because of too much of it. In other words, reality can never live up to their lofty expectations.

A couple of decades ago, the psychologist Shelley Taylor proposed that “positive illusions” like excessive optimism were critical to mental health. People who saw their abilities and chances realistically, she noted, tended to be in a state of depression. (Other psychologists, taking a closer look at the data, countered that depressives actually show more optimism bias than nondepressives: given the way things turn out for them, they are not pessimistic enough.) And there is new evidence that optimism may in some ways be self-fulfilling. In a recently published study, researchers in the Netherlands found that optimistic people — those who assented to statements like “I often feel that life is full of promises” — tend to live longer than pessimists. Perhaps, it has been speculated, optimism confers a survival advantage by helping people cope with adversity.

Hmm. I agree with all this, but perhaps I should take it more to heart: I'm not feeling horribly positive about much of anything today.

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